Americans can vote from space, so why not from U.S. island territories?

An American can vote from outer space. But from American soil on any of the five U.S. island territories? No such luck.

Millions denied right to vote in Guam, Virgin Islands, N. Mariana Islands, American Samoa and Puerto Rico

Genevieve Whitaker, of St Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands, says not being able to vote for president is 'egregious.' (Courtesy Genevieve Whitaker)

An American orbiting in outer space can vote, but four million citizens and nationals living on U.S. soil have been left behind.

While NASA astronaut Kate Rubins cast her ballot last month from the International Space Station, around 350 kilometres above planet Earth, those living in the five American island territories in Guam, the Virgin Islands, the Northern Mariana Islands, American Samoa and Puerto Rico will not be able to vote to elect their next president.

Territorial residents have some of the highest military enlistment rates, yet many have no say when it comes to deciding their next commander-in-chief.

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In a 115-year-old Supreme Court case known as Downes v. Bidwell, a 5-4 decision held that the Constitution should not apply more broadly to the "possession" territories because it would be impossible to administer government and justice "according to Anglo-Saxon principles" in places that were "inhabited by alien races differing from us in religion, customs, laws, methods of taxation and modes of thought."

Territorial residents told CBC News about missing out on Tuesday's general election.


'It hurts me deep inside that I can't vote,' says Rodney Cruz, a veteran who fought in Iraq. (Courtesy Rodney Cruz)

Rodney Cruz, 36, Dededo, veteran:

It's like somebody has stripped me of my title of being a human being. Being a disabled veteran who is an American citizen, I served my country, bled for this country, and I continue to serve for the federal government of this country by helping patriots in my work with Veterans Affairs.

People ask me, "Why do you fly the American flag when you're Chamorro [Indigenous settlers of Guam]? You should put up the Guam flag." But I've grown up as an American citizen. I'll always be proud to be an American.

I fought in the sands of Iraq knowing what freedom means. Freedom is not free. To be allowed to vote adds value to who I am. But it hurts me deep inside that I can't vote.

Of the six kids I have, one is very unique. She was born in California. She's eight, but if she wants to run for president, she can. I tell her, "Live your dreams, baby." She looks at Hillary Clinton and I say to her, "You, out of everybody in the family, you have that opportunity."


Being denied the right to vote is like 'saying we're lesser citizens, lesser people,' Tracy Guerrero says. (Courtesy Tracy Guerrero)

Tracy Guerrero, 42, Saipan, college administrator:

If a U.S. citizen living in Japan or the Philippines can vote for president, certainly a U.S. citizen living in the United States should be able to vote for president.

As an 18-year-old attending college in California, that was a proud day for me voting in my first presidential election for Bill Clinton in 1992. If today I moved back to California, I would be able to vote.

But Saipan is where my family is. My brother lives right next to me, my sister's down the street, my other brother's down the street. My children come home from school every day and are with their first cousins. They do homework together, go outside together.

We call ourselves Americans, yet we're denied the right to vote? To me, that's a statement saying we're lesser citizens, lesser people. This whole thing is really a holdover from 100-year-old American colonialism.


It's 'absolutely un-American' that he can't vote in the election, says Andres Lopez, pictured here with President Barack Obama. (Courtesy Andres Lopez)

Andres Lopez, 46, San Juan, lawyer:

So this year I have to sit it out. I can vote in local elections, but I can't go out and cast a ballot for president or Congress or for Senate. Which is actually terrible — and not just an indignity, it's absolutely un-American.

In the case of Puerto Rico, when you talk about the five island territories, you put all of the people living in them together, and Puerto Rico comprises maybe 92, 93 per cent of the population.

Think of a statelike entity with three and a half million American citizens, all of which are affected on a daily basis by the laws that our Congress makes and that our president executes and the Supreme Court interprets, and being powerless to do something about it.

For the last nine years since I got started in the ground floor of the Obama campaign, I've been doing advocacy in general throughout the country. Part of the advocacy is advocating for PR, because it's voiceless.

The whole country was founded on the concept that all men are created equal.


Mikaele Etuale says American Samoans have all the privileges of other Americans 'except the right to vote in the U.S. elections.' (Courtesy Mikaele Etuale)

Mikaele Etuale, 56, Mapusaga, college administrator:

I follow the U.S. elections, like a lot of people. There are people who belong to the Democratic Party and the Republican Party.

We have party affiliations, but there's no officially Republican or Democratic candidates.

The majority of people here really oppose the idea of being U.S. citizens. Of course, that denies us the right to vote in a U.S. election, but the worry is that if we become U.S. citizens, it might impact our culture and language.

I think we deserve the right to vote in elections, given the association we have with the United States.

Here in American Samoa, we can become citizens. But then we have to go through the whole process, like the rest of the people who apply for citizenship in the United States. We are considered U.S. nationals, so we have all the privileges except the right to vote in the U.S. elections.


'Millions of territorial peoples are daily affected by the pains of colonization,' Whitaker says. (Courtesy Genevieve Whitaker)

Genevieve Whitaker, 33, St Croix, human rights activist:

Since I was really young, I've seen myself as an Afro-Caribbean. I do appreciate my heritage. My father is from Texas, so I have a parent from the mainland U.S.. Mother from St. Croix and entire maternal lineage is Antigua. I was raised by my Antiguan grandmother. I always pride myself as an Afro-Caribbean. But my national status is I'm an American.

In the 1960s, we had the establishment of the U.S. Voting Rights Act, and yet it seems to not apply to territorial people. Some scholars described us as invisible people. We're not seen.

I do believe this is an issue of the past, such as slavery. Millions of territorial peoples are daily affected by the pains of colonization. Many territorial residents are minorities.

Many U.S. Virgin Islanders now have enlisted in the U.S. military. We've had Virgin Islanders who have died in the last 10 years in overseas conflicts. So not being able to vote for president is really egregious.

Follow the U.S. election on Tuesday, Nov. 8, with CBC News

CBC online: Our day starts first thing in the morning at with news and analysis, then as polls close, you can get live results and insights into the conversations happening on the ground and online. We'll cover the story from a Canadian perspective until a new U.S. president is declared.

CBC Television: America Votes, the CBC News election special with Peter Mansbridge, starts at 9 p.m. ET on CBC-TV and CBC News Network.

CBC Radio One: Our election special hosted by Susan Bonner and Michael Enright starts at 8 p.m. ET.


Matt Kwong


Matt Kwong was the Washington-based correspondent for CBC News. He previously reported for CBC News as an online journalist in New York and Toronto. You can follow him on Twitter at: @matt_kwong

Interviews have been edited for length.